Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
March 20, 2007
Classical Music Pages: Ludwig van Beethoven--Symphony #5, Op. 67
Beethoven's 5th Symphony in C minor, Op. 67
Bethoven's 5th Symphony
Symphony #5, 1st mov't
What did you hear?
How did you listen?
Do you remember how this tune sounded at the beginning of Chapter 5 of Howard's End?
Did you find yourself, just now, perceiving Beethoven à la Mrs. Munt, or Helen, or Margaret, or Tibby, or Fräulein Mosebach, or Fräulein Mosebach's young man...?
It will be generally admitted that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man. All sorts and conditions are satisfied by it. Whether you are like Mrs. Munt, and tap surreptitiously when the tunes come--of course, not so as to disturb the others--; or like Helen, who can see heroes and shipwrecks in the music's flood; or like Margaret, who can only see the music; or like Tibby, who is profoundly versed in counterpoint, and holds the full score open on his knee; or like their cousin, Fräulein Mosebach, who remembers all the time that Beethoven is "echt Deutsch"; or like Fräulein Mosebach's young man, who can remember nothing but Fräulein Mosebach: in any case, the passion of your life becomes more vivid....
"...look out for the part where you think you have done with the goblins and they come back," breathed Helen, as the music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures; it was that that made them so terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. After the interlude of elephants dancing, they returned and made the observation for the second time. Helen could not contradict them, for, once at all events, she had felt the same, and had seen the reliable walls of youth collapse. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! The goblins were right.
Her brother raised his finger: it was the transitional passage on the drum.
For, as if things were going too far, Beethoven took hold of the goblins and made them do what he wanted. He appeared in person. He gave them a little push, and they began to walk in major key instead of in a minor, and then--he blew with his mouth and they were scattered! Gusts of splendour, gods and demigods contending with vast swords, colour and fragrance broadcast on the field of battle, magnificent victory, magnificent death! Oh, it all burst before the girl, and she even stretched out her gloved hands as if it was tangible. Any fate was titanic; any contest desirable; conqueror and conquered would alike be applauded by the angels of the utmost stars.
And the goblins--they had not really been there at all? They were only the phantoms of cowardice and unbelief? One healthy human impulse would dispel them? Men like the Wilcoxes, or President Roosevelt, would say yes. Beethoven knew better. The goblins really had been there. They might return--and they did. It was as if the splendour of life might boil over--and waste to steam and froth. In its dissolution one heard the terrible, ominous note, and a goblin, with increased malignity, walked quietly over the universe from end to end. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! Even the flaming ramparts of the world might fall.
Beethoven chose to make all right in the end. He built the ramparts up. He blew with his mouth for the second time, and again the goblins were scattered. He brought back the gusts of splendour, the heroism, the youth, the magnificence of life and of death, and, amid vast roarings of a superhuman joy, he led his Fifth Symphony to its conclusion. But the goblins were there. They could return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can trust Beethoven when he says other things.
Listen again for the goblins in the third movement....
Do you hear them?
....asked Margaret..."Now, doesn't it seem absurd to you? What is the good of the Arts if they are interchangeable? What is the good of the ear if it tells you the same as the eye? Helen's one aim is to translate tunes into the language of painting, and pictures into the language of music. It's very ingenious, and she says several pretty things in the process, but what's gained, I'd like to know? Oh, it's all rubbish, radically false....
"Now, this very symphony that we've just been having--she won't let it alone. She labels it with meanings from start to finish; turns it into literature. I wonder if the day will ever return when music will be treated as music."
What has Helen done to Beethoven's 5th? What's wrong with what she's done? Of what does Margaret accuse her?
How like is her "synesthesia" to the project of this course? How much does it resemble an "involuntary neurological condition, coupling two or more bodily senses"? (Cf. Ch. 9: "Helen, who will muddle things, says [the view of the river] is like music. The course of the Oder is to be like music. It's obliged to remind her of a symphonic poem.")
What is the good of the disciplines if they are interchangeable? What is the good of biology, if it tells you the same as literary studies? (Gaby: In creating parallels between science and literature...the idea needs to work for both; I think it is easy to take an idea that fits one and apply it to the other without examining how well it suits the other discipline.)
Well, let's engage in that examination. Of all the multiple ways of reading Howard's End (as multiple as the ways of listening to Beethoven), I'm going to pull out only two: the question of how art (=this particular book) evolves (and how useful it might be for us to focus on that evolution), and the matter of morality. Hopefully you'll explore others, in the course forum, in our small group discussions, and in your papers...
True and False Griffins from John Ruskin's Stones of Venice
I. Wherefrom this novel?
What are its sources, its ancestors, its antecedents?
Are they literary or extra-literary?
What does Howard's End tell us about the history and the future of literature?
Is this a novel that celebrates the past? What is its attitude towards the future?
Of what other texts does it remind you?
What traces of old texts do you see in it?
What modern texts does it anticipate?
What texts does it explicitly reference and play with?
--The funeral of a rich person was to them what the funeral of Alcestis or Ophelia is to the educated. It was Art; though remote from life, it enhanced life's values, and they witnessed it avidly. (Ch. 11)
--Charles and his father sometimes disagreed. But...each desired no doughtier comrade when it was necessary to voyage for a little past the emotions. So the sailors of Ulysses voyaged past the Sirens, having first stopped one another's ears with wool. (Ch. 11)
Jenn: What...struck me about Howard's End is the traces of novels like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice that found their way into this story.
--Leonard Bast reads John Ruskin's architectural study of Stones of Venice (1851-53)
How perfectly the famous chapter opens! How supreme its command of admonition and of poetry!....Was there anything to be learnt from this fine sentence? Could he adapt it to the needs of daily life? Could he introduce it, with modifications, when he next wrote a letter to his brother...? And the voice...rolled on...full of high purpose, full of beauty, full even of sympathy and the love of men, yet somehow eluding all that was actual and insistent in Leonard's life....Leonard listened to it with reverence. He felt that he was being done good to, and that if he kept on with Ruskin...he would one day push his head out of the grey waters and see the universe. (Ch. 6)
Is that what we are doing here? Being Done Good To...To See the Universe?
How much does this novel elude all that is actual and insistent in your life?
How much does it speak to the needs of your daily life?
--the novel repeatedly picks up and re-plays a famous line from Matthew Arnold, who said of Sophocles that
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole
("To a Friend,"The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems, 1849).
--"To see life steadily and to see it whole was not for the likes of him." (Leonard Bast, Ch. 6)
--"It is impossible to see modern life steadily and see it whole, and she had chosen to see it whole. Mr. Wilcox saw steadily." (Margaret, Ch. 18)
--"In these English farms, if anywhere, one might see life steadily and see it whole." (Ch. 33)
--"...business men...saw life more steadily, though with the steadiness of the half-closed eye." (Ch. 41)
What constitutes the whole? (What role does "the unseen" play?)
Is it possible to see both steadily and whole?
Do you know about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem (1931),
the claim that "any theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic
cannot be both consistent and complete"?
What role does the narrator play, in helping us to steadiness and to wholeness?
What does the opening line tell you about the narrator?
"One may as well begin with..."
Might it hint @ all else...not attended to?
Suggests the impossibility of capturing it all?
Gestures toward incompleteness?
And/or representability, using the part to tell us the whole?
So: do you trust this narrator?
What kind/sort/genre of story is he telling us?
Paul has developed a distinction for us between two story telling styles:
non-narrative (static) and narrative (changing, historical).
Which is Howard's End (the novel)?
Why do you think so?
I want to refine that distinction, and re-name it,
as the archetypal literary distinction between two genres:
lyric and narrative.
Renaissance Literature: Lyric and Narrative Selves
What is a lyric poem?
How does it differ from narrative?
(a moment in time, vs. a movement in space?)
An example:"The Happiness of this World," from the French of Christophe Plantin, trans. Karl Kirchwey
Caitlin: What I wonder though is whether we have forced our literature into a more non-narrative state by printing it. Do books themselves limit our literature?
Paul: Could it be that printed "stories" actually do represent an effort to transform change into fixity?
Gaby: a story is non-narrative because it's in print? can't agree with you on that one. a story *is* a narrative, it's written once and doesn't change.
Oh, but having been written, is it...generative?
What makes it...generative?
Elise: organisms...move toward more complicated combinations of specialized cells, but ...in doing this,...lose some of their original potential to diversify on cellular and evolutionary levels. I found this idea of specialization versus potential very compelling in an evolutionary sense, and I also wonder if this idea could be in some ways extended to the development of literature.... literature has undergone an evolutionary process...into the immense variety of approaches seen today. The oral traditions and original forms of language possessed immense potential to diversify and specialize into the forms of literature used today....As literature becomes more and more complex and specific, it can lose some of the potential to diversify that more simplified forms once possessed.
How much "potential to diversity" do you see in Howard's End?
How much randomness do you see in the novel? How much order?
What is the relationship and balance between them?
Would you call the novel conservative? revolutionary? evolutionary?
In content? In form?
What is its relation to the country? to the city?
To rural values? to cosmopolitanism?
How does it handle difference? What is its relationship to change?
What are the observations being summarized, in your answers above?
For instance: what are the characters like?
Forster, in Aspects of the Novel (1927): the novelist has difficulties enough, and today we shall examine two of his devices for solving them--instinctive devices...the first device is the use of different kinds of characters. The second is connected with the point of view.
I. We may divide characters into flat and round. Flat characters were called "humours" in the seventeenth century, and are sometimes called types, and sometimes caricatures. In their purest form, they are constructed round a single idea or quality; when there is more than one factor in them, we get the beginning of the curve towards the round....
....the test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat. It if does not convince, it is a flat pretending to be round. It has the incalculability of life about it....All of us, even the sophisticated, yearn for permanence, and to the unsophisticated permanence is the chief excuse for a work of rt. We all want books to endure, to be refuges, and their inhabitants to be always the same, and flat characters tend to justify themselves on this account."
--Remember essentialism (individuals are members of invariant classes) vs.
population thinking (individuals vary in
substantial and important ways)?)
II. Now for the second device: the point of view from which the story may be told...
this power to expand and contract perception (of which the shifting view point is a symptom), this right to intermittent knowledge:--I find it one of the great advantages of the novel-form, and it has a parallel in our perception of life. We are stupider at some times than others; we can enter into people's minds occasionally but not always, because our own minds get tired; and this intermittence lends in the long run variety and colour to the experiences we receive...."
--Remember The Bright/Educated Brain
(sometimes out of control),
Committed to (a particular kind of) Rigor in Thought,
Some Times Too Much So? (and hence oddly timid? as well as destructive?)
Next week: in this fictional universe: wherefrom morality! (?)
"Only connect!...Only connect the prose and the passion, --E.M. Forster
and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at
its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and
the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life
to either, will die."
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Sunday, 25-Mar-2007 14:39:38 EDT